Getting started can be the hardest part of anything new. If you’re beginning a new health regimen or getting started investing, having a plan of action can ease you into the challenge and let you know what steps to take. After all, knowing what to do is half the battle. When it comes to investing, here are eight actions you can take to kick-start your investment plan:
1. Know your situation.
Add up the assets you will depend upon for retirement income. Start by making a list of your assets, along with the current value of each one, plus the anticipated value at retirement. Be sure to consider all of the different varieties of savings and investment accounts.
2. Identify your goals.
Figure out what you want most out of life and prioritize those short-term goals and long-term goals. These can range from buying a house to starting a business or retiring at an early age. Without goals, any money you earn can easily be spent instead of saved for an important milestone or goal.
3. Make a budget…and stick to it.
Improve your savings by cutting back on unwarranted spending. Reduce spending on things that are more luxury-type items and “wants” as opposed to “needs.” Cut back on eating out and think of expenses that you can eliminate. Small changes in your spending habits now can give you more money to invest, eventually making a big difference in your retirement years.
It’s generally recommended to set aside at least three to six months’ worth of everyday expenses into such a fund. This helps build a cushion for unplanned expenses like a car repair or replacing a large household appliance. It pays to plan ahead. Try not to put large essential expenses on a credit card, because that will just put you back to square one.
5. Pay down bad debt.
Take a good look at your credit card debt, student loans, car loans, mortgages, etc. Before you start investing and saving for your goals, you need to eliminate credit card debt that carries very high interest rates. This should be your first short-term goal. Once high-interest, “bad” debt is paid off, you can then take the money that had been going toward payments and invest it instead. Debt such as student loans, car loans, and a mortgage tend to have lower interest rates and can be paid down while you also invest in the markets.
6. Determine if refinancing your mortgage makes sense.
With interest rates at record lows, it may be worth investigating if upfront costs justify the long-term benefits of refinancing your mortgage. What you save in interest can go toward your investments instead. Keep in mind that refinancing can be a complicated process, so be sure to consult with a trusted mortgage specialist.
7. Enroll in your work-sponsored retirement plan.
Many companies match employee contributions to a 401(k) plan or other retirement vehicle. That’s almost like free money since you’re getting paid to save. Where else can you get an immediate return on your investment? Whenever possible, take full advantage of this gift from your company.
8. Find a sounding board.
Ask for help in setting up your financial plan. Experienced investment advisors will not only help you identify your goals and assess your financial situation, they will also pick investments that fit your time horizon and risk profile. Trusted investment advisors also consistently monitor your investments and make adjustments when needed.
The bottom line is: Start investing as soon as you can — even if it’s a small amount — to get the most “bang for your buck.” With a smart action plan and a little help, getting started isn’t as daunting as it may seem. If retiring at 50 and relocating to Fiji is your top priority, some discipline and planning now can help make that a reality.